The Boys from Malagasey

Rosie Llewellyn-Jones tells the remarkable story of the boys from Madagascar who were sent to England to be educated in the 1820s as part of an agreement with the British to develop the country and end Madagascan dependency on the exportation of slaves.    

On Midsummer's Day 1821 seven little boys, newly arrived from Madagascar, were enrolled into Class 1 of the Borough Road School in Southwark, south London. None of them spoke any English, and during the long voyage they had had to rely on an older boy called Virkee, who spoke French Creole. Two of the youngest, the seven-year-old twins Thotoos and Volave, were unable to ask for food and attention because they could not make themselves understood. In later life the twins recalled the miserable journey:

We fell ill on leaving Madagascar to go to the country of the Whites, people thought of the Whites then as cannibals ... We suffered greatly on board ship, particularly from the pitching and rolling that caused us to fall. There was no-one to restrain us, or to sustain us, and more than once we might have fallen into the sea. When we arrived in Great Britain we didn't know the White language, not even a word, and the Whites, for their part, didn't know our language, not even a word.

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